Understanding PTSD: The Unseen Scars of Trauma

Feet chained to a weigh

Hey there! Have you ever endured a profoundly painful and catastrophic event? Are you haunted by recurring nightmares and flashbacks? Do you find it challenging to open up about your experiences with your closest friends and family? Has your behaviour become more aggressive, or are you struggling to get a good night’s sleep? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these questions, you may be wondering if you’re dealing with PTSD.

Understanding PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that emerges following an intensely stressful event, resulting in prolonged and recurrent mental and physical distress. If these symptoms persist for over a month, it’s classified as PTSD. Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD range from war experiences and sexual assault to physical abuse. However, not everyone suffering from PTSD has necessarily endured a life-threatening situation. Some individuals develop PTSD after enduring relentless bullying or experiencing the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Although the condition had been recognized by various names for years, the term ‘PTSD’ found its origins with Vietnam War veterans.

How common is PTSD?

In the United States, the lifetime risk of developing PTSD in the general population is estimated to be between 6 and 9 percent. However, the risk significantly increases in high-risk groups, such as the military, where it can reach up to 40%.

Symptoms of PTSD

The hallmark symptoms of PTSD include:

Intrusion (Re-experiencing): Individuals with PTSD often experience flashbacks, recurring nightmares, or vivid sensory perceptions related to the traumatic event.

Hyperarousal: Those with PTSD may be persistently irritable and aggressive, irrespective of provocation. Self-destructive behaviours and sleep disturbances are also common, and they are easily startled and hypervigilant.

Avoidance: People with PTSD tend to avoid thoughts, memories, people, places, and conversations associated with the traumatic event.

Additionally, individuals with PTSD may experience cognitive and mood-related symptoms, making it difficult to recall specific details of the traumatic incident. They might blame themselves or harbour negative beliefs about their character, such as “I am a bad person” or “I can’t trust anyone.” These distressing symptoms can severely impact daily activities, work performance, and personal relationships.

Do I have PTSD?

According to the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5, a diagnosis of PTSD requires the following criteria to be met:

  • Exposure to a severely traumatising event, whether directly or indirectly,
  • At least one symptom from each category: intrusion, hyperarousal, and avoidance
  • Negative alterations in cognition and mood.
  • Suffering from these symptoms for over a month.
  • Symptoms are not attributed to any other substance or medical condition.

Symptoms can manifest immediately after the trauma or even as late as several years afterward, a condition referred to as ‘delayed expression.’ If you have even the slightest doubt about whether you may have PTSD, it is always advisable to seek guidance from a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Why do my symptoms persist?

Avoiding conversations and reminders of the traumatic event may exacerbate symptoms, as can suppressing re-experiencing episodes and ruminating deeply on the experience. It is, therefore, essential to discuss your experiences with loved ones and seek support.

Could it be another condition?

Several other conditions can be mistaken for PTSD, including:

  • Pre-existing anxiety or mood disorders that worsen due to stress
  • Acute stress disorder, when symptoms persist for less than a month.
  • Adjustment disorders.
  • Personality changes following the traumatic event.

Is it Possible to Have Other Mental Health Issues Along with PTSD?

Yes, individuals with PTSD may also struggle with harmful coping strategies, such as alcohol and drug abuse, and may experience severe depression or even suicidal thoughts.

PTSD- The Invisible Wounds of Trauma

Research has shown that interpersonal stressors like combat and sexual assault are more likely to lead to PTSD than accidents or disasters. The severity and duration of exposure to the traumatic event also play a significant role in the development of PTSD.

The likelihood of developing PTSD is highly individual, influenced by a person’s physical, mental, and psychosocial health, personality, and the strength of their interpersonal relationships. Previous exposure to various traumas can also be a contributing factor, with women being more susceptible to PTSD than men.

Twin studies have even suggested a genetic predisposition to developing PTSD, with Genome-Wide Association Studies revealing complex interactions between genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors.

 

Treatment

Psychological therapy is the preferred approach for treating PTSD, with a focus on addressing substance or alcohol abuse, if present.

Common psychological therapy methods include:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): Therapists assist in managing anxiety and negative thoughts through techniques such as self-monitoring and symptom awareness, exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, and anger management.
  • Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR): This method involves eight stages, including history taking, target memory assessment, memory processing, and evaluation.

While certain medications, like antidepressants and antipsychotics, can be used, they are not the primary treatment method.

Supporting a loved one with PTSD

If someone close to you is dealing with PTSD, your role is crucial in ensuring their safety and well-being. Encourage open conversations and discourage the suppression of memories. Seeking professional help is essential, particularly if the individual is experiencing suicidal thoughts. In an emergency, do not hesitate to call a crisis hotline.

Remember, you don’t have to go through this on your own. Seeking help from a professional can make a big difference on your journey to healing and resilience. Reach out to Light Mind Counselling & Psychology today, and let’s take the first step towards a brighter tomorrow!

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